By Zach Honig
"We started in our garage."
It's a story we've heard from Apple, Google and Amazon. From humble beginnings, those companies grew into global giants.
Séura, one of the few consumer electronics manufacturers still operating in America, traces its roots to the garage of Gretchen and Tim Gilbertson in Green Bay, Wisc.
The couple started tinkering with an idea for a product—and an entire company—after Gretchen had a “light-bulb” moment in 2003.
The idea? Hide the ugly television behind a mirror. When it's on, the television picture comes through specially designed glass. When it's off, it’s just another mirror in a bathroom.
Nice idea in a world where technology and gadgets are invading every part of our daily lives.
A decade later, Sheahan still works at Séura assembling their bathroom mirror televisions.
The work he does could have been shipped overseas years ago. It's time-consuming, methodical and detailed. But the company has beat the competition by assembling products in America, allowing them to give customers high quality and fast turnarounds on delivery times.
Another 29 people have joined Sheahan and the Gilbertsons at the company's Green Bay headquarters. At 50,000 square feet, it’s nearly 100 times the size of the 600-square foot garage they once worked in. There's a sales team and research and development.
That's a far cry from when the Gilbertsons were in startup mode. They handled everything themselves, even as they managed to avoid revealing that there were only three people working at the company back then.
"The phone would ring and I would pick it up, 'Hello, Séura,' and they'd say 'Can I speak to accounting?'," Gretchen remembers. "And whoever they were looking for on the other end, Tim had to be that person or I had to be that person."
In the 1950s, more than 90 television manufacturers operated in the U.S., including storied names such as RCA and Zenith. By the mid-1990s, television manufacturing had literally disappeared, making it impossible for a company like Seura to build its sets with all American-made components.
They have to import the display panels and some electronics from Asia, because those things simply aren't made in America anymore.
From the bathroom sets, Seura has evolved into building televisions for virtually every room in the house. As people have added more and more technology to their homes, the tech clutter has taken over. Seura’s stylish sets offer a streamlined solution.
An off-the-shelf set in the bathroom would take up precious counter space. So Seura sets can be mounted on the wall. In a bedroom, a 100-inch flat screen might make some people giddy, but put a custom frame around it and a mirrored glass in front of it and everybody is happy.
Seura paints hard coatings on the glass screen, and customizes it for whatever room it’s in. So in the bathroom, it’s more reflective so the mirror is usable. In a living room, it’s more “transmissive”—meaning you can see the television better.
And then there’s the whole great outdoors. Normally televisions and the outdoors don’t mix, but Seura may have solved that problem, too.
While the Storm was developed in Green Bay, it’s produced in Asia to help keep manufacturing costs in check.
Most people put the sets, which aren’t cheap at between $5,000 and $10,000, in their open-air living rooms, the next big thing in home decorating. But probably the most impressive and for football fans like the Gilbertsons, the most satisfying installation was at Lambeau Field in 2013.
After waiting for years, Tim’s name finally came up to be able to buy season tickets for the Packers this year. It’s a list many diehard Cheeseheads can be on for decades.
For the Gilbertsons, a family that feels so connected to the city of Green Bay, being able to watch every home game in a stadium housing televisions they developed is particularly gratifying. Not that it’s really gone to their heads. As Tim jokingly points out, although he may have scored season tickets, his kids are probably still 84,000 on the waitlist.
Zach Honig is an editor at Engadget, covering the consumer electronics industry. He's based in New York, NY.
Photography by Josh Kufahl and Zach Honig
Videography for main video by Josh Kufahl